In my ongoing conversation with my fellow Christians on the dangers of mixing faith and politics, people will often point to an obscure reference in the book of Romans where Paul refers to a man named "Erastus" who is praised and identified as the treasurer of the city.
Here's the reference:
"Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings." (Romans 16:23, NIV)
Their point is that Paul mentions his title as a political servant and fails to pause and criticize his involvement in political affairs. Because of this lack of rebuke from Paul, it must therefore be concluded (they surmise) that there's nothing wrong with Christians being involved in politics.
Not so fast.
First, it must be noted that the Greek word that Paul uses to denote "treasurer" (Oikonomos) is not the equivalent of the Latin word "Aedile", which refers to a somewhat higher office in ancient municipal government.
This detail suggests that he may not have actually held a high government office but was simply on par with a city accountant, although it is conceivable that he did hold a position in the city government in Corinth.
We also must note that Erastus is mentioned a total of 3 times by Paul in the New Testament. Once here in Romans, once in Acts 19:22, and once in 2 Timothy 4:20.
If we connect these references together, it seems that he traveled quite often with Paul on his missionary journeys. These journeys often took months, or even years of time.
So, while he may have originally been employed as the city treasurer (possibly at his conversion), it is very unlikely that Erastus would have continued to work as a city treasurer (if indeed this is what his job was when Paul met him) since it would be nearly impossible to imagine someone in the ancient world being allowed to serve in an elected or political position while they were also permitted to take months away from their post. Remember, there were no laptops or internet for those who wanted to "work remote".
One source I found suggested that Paul's mention of Erastus being "the treasurer of the city" may have simply been to indicate which Erastus he meant - since that name was as common a name as "John" or "Mike" is for us today.
"A. C. Headlam thinks it improbable that one who held an office implying residence in one locality should have been one of Paul's companions in travel. On the other hand Paul may be designating Erastus (Romans 16:23) by an office he once held, but which he gave up to engage in mission work."
Please note that it is always a mistake to point to a lack of rebuke from either Paul, Peter or Jesus as "evidence" of their views on anything. Many Christians tend to do this when it comes to the same lack of rebuke from Peter or Jesus whenever they encounter soldiers. They assume (falsely) that this silence implies tacit approval.
If this silence or lack of rebuke for the person's occupational choices is taken to imply approval, then Jesus' lack of rebuke for the prostitute who washed his feet with her hair can also be taken as approval.
If we sincerely want to know what Jesus and the Apostles thought about being involved in the military, or politics, or prostitution, we might consider looking at the Sermon on the Mount for clues. Beyond that, we have dozens of writings from the early Church Fathers which give us ample insight into what the early Christians thought about these things.
For more on this, please see my book Jesus Untangled:Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb which is available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble (online) and iTunes.
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